Freight forwarder vs shipping agent

What is a Freight Forwarder and Do I need one?

If you are working with the import and export of goods, you must know what is a freight forwarder. What does a freight forwarder offer? How is it different from a shipping agent? How to choose a freight forwarder? And do I need a freight forwarder? Where to get freight forwarding services in Singapore?

A Freight Forwarder

A freight forwarder is a link or intermediary who takes all the tasks concerned with the transport and landing of a freight. These tasks include packing, handling, storage, transport, and customs clearance. A freight forwarder can act as a principal or an agent, or both.

When it acts as an agent, he is a simple link between the customer (importer or exporter) and the service providers (services include packing, transport, clearance, documentation, handling, storage, in general).

When it acts as a principal, the customer deals with the freight forwarder alone and the freight forwarder takes care of the rest. The customer is responsible for the single bill payment for the services provided as a whole.

A Shipping Agent

A shipping agent, an individual or an organization, offers to take on the headache of the shipping company. In other words, it handles all the tasks concerned with the efficient and smooth transport of a shipment or cargo. A shipping agent coordinates with the port authorities and takes care of all the essential supplies to go with the shipment. This includes customs documentation, waste declarations, harbor services, all the necessary repairs, transport and handling of the goods, and the like.

So, What’s the Difference?

A freight Forwarder has a wider scope than a shipping agent. Freight forwarding agencies provide services on a contract basis that may or may not include the services provided by an agent or a shipping agency. To narrow down, the following elaborate the differences:

Mode of transport

A shipping agent specializes in a certain mode of transportation. It may be via ship or other means.

A freight forwarder, as an agent or organization, offers multi-modal services, including air freight, sea freight, consolidation services, etc.

Door-to-door Freight Services

The services of a Freight forwarder coincide with each and everything concerned with the loading and unloading of a shipment. Whereas a shipping agent may not be that inclusive.

Shipping agents are usually concerned with the matters that move more around the transport, ranging from the moment the shipment is ready to leave to the moment it unloads. He has nothing to do with the arrangement of service providers for the packing, storage, and handling of the shipment.

Shipping Vessels and Storage Facilities

Freight forwarders also have the ownership of shipping vessels and storage facilities in most cases. So, they take the whole responsibility of, say â€handling’ of your shipment till it reaches its destination port.

This may not be the case with a shipping agent. To sum up, a freight forwarder is simply a shipping agent with a rather wider scope for services.

Services provided by a Freight Forwarder

The tasks concerned with import and export are enormous, and they sum up huge. Narrowing them down to general classes, we have come to this:

Shorter Transport Time

When you are having a freight forwarder as a principal or an agent on behalf of you, the shipment does not wait for the owner to be there for the necessary documentation. The autonomy of the forwarder depends on the contract with the owner. Besides, the freight forwarder is responsible for the hiccup-free transport of your goods. He does that by ensuring custom clearance and legal documentation.

This sums up to reduce transport time considerably.

Custom and Legal documentation

Every shipment has to go through a strict process of security and custom. This is ensured by the freight forwarder. He does that either by using his contact with the service providers in the country where you are importing to or exporting from. Or by having an office in that country that ensures that your shipment complies with the regulations of the international shipping.

Consolidation Services

The freight forwarders are fully equipped to provide Full Container Loading (FCL) and Less Container Loading (LCL) options.

The freight forwarder is wholly responsible for the consolidation services. They prioritize consolidating goods in a warehouse before loading. This is because consolidation considerably reduces paperwork and fuel costs.

Competitive Rates

With every service comes the competition of rates. Every freight forwarder tends to provide the most competitive rates to their customers. And they do so by negotiating on the behalf of the owner with the service providers and the shipping lines and procure the most cost-effective route to take.

Do I need a freight forwarder?

You would better understand the complexities of custom and logistics concerned with modern import and export. Is it worth wasting time and energy dealing with petty issues related to international transport regulations in place of focusing on your business?

Besides, you need immense experience, knowledge, networks, and connections for freight forwarding.

So, yes. You need one!

Things to consider when choosing a Freight Forwarder

  1. While you’d be looking for the most competitive rates, don’t forget to ensure that their pricing structure is completely transparent.
  2. Look for a freight forwarder with the right amount of experience
  3. It is suggested to prefer the ones who specialize in your mode of transportation
  4. Reputation and customer reviews
  5. Look for the freight forwarder with a wider network. This way you can get better rates and ensure security.
  6. Make sure they offer the right document and logistics services for your shipment.

Freight Forwarders in Singapore

The following well-researched and comprehensive list can help you find a freight forwarder in Singapore:

1. Trans Global

2. Global Freight Solutions

3. M&P International Freights

4. AGI Freight

5. National Forwarder

6. Freight Paul

7. Rapha Shipping


There is no hard and fast distinction between a shipping agent and a freight forwarder. Go for what suits you best. Moreover, it depends on the contract you agree on with your agent or principal that how much responsibility and authority you give to a freight forwarder.

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